The second month of my big Doctor Who re-watch is the Patrick Troughton era. Troughton had the unenviable task of taking over the show after William Hartnell was fired (and at which point the show’s producers came up with the idea of the Doctor being able to regenerate his body into a new form, although that exact phrase hadn’t been invented until a later era). Hartnell wasn’t the only thing being ditched by the producers, though. The new showrunners threw out the idea of the purely-historical story (after Troughton’s second story “The Highlanders” we wouldn’t see one again for another fifteen years), switching to a popular “base under siege” format involving alien attacks.
Like Hartnell’s era, the three seasons of Troughton’s time on the show are rather incomplete in the BBC Archives due to an old policy of purging old television shows over time. Unlike Hartnell, Troughton’s era is missing far more (thanks to there being less countries overseas that had bought prints that would be recovered years later); no complete stories exist from Troughton’s first season, and only one (“The Tomb of the Cybermen”) exists from his second season. Watching the stories (and pieces of partially-recovered stories), it’s all the more a pity because there’s something about Troughton’s physical performance that can’t be quite captured via script or even audio recording. Watching him leap and jump about the screen, he’s a true performer who brought so much more to the role than he was ever asked. Most Doctor Who fans hold out hope for more stories of his being recovered; every new piece and fragment found is a virtual goldmine.
The oldest fully-complete Troughton story, which kicked off his second season. This story was originally one wiped from the archives entirely, and only returned to the BBC in late 1991. I remember watching it a year or two later, excited about seeing an previously missing story that was thought to be a masterpiece. Now that I’m rewatching it 20 years later? It doesn’t quite hold up. There are some good bits here and there. Having previously joined the Doctor and Jamie in the season finale, new companion Victoria gets some great scenes with the Doctor; they’ve got a lovely surrogate-father/daughter relationship right off the bat. On the other hand, she’s religated to damsel-in-distress more times than one can count. The bigger problem is the casual racism in this story, with the treatment of Toberman (the only non-white character). He’s every bad stereotype of the African character; the muscle-bound, brainless slave who lives to serve his masters. It’s honestly appalling. Once you skirt around this impossible-to-ignore problem it’s also just a so-so story; the idea of finding the last remnants of the evil Cybermen race and someone trying to resurrect them from their tombs is a great one, don’t get me wrong. But as soon as the secret trap of the Cybermen is revealed, it’s a story that falls apart once you try to apply logic. “The Tomb of the Cybermen” is one of those stories that works only until you start to think about it afterwards. There are (much) worse stories out there, but this is sadly not the masterpiece that my 19-year old self remembered.
Continue reading 50 Years of Doctor Who: Patrick Troughton